Today is the day. With less than 40 days to go until the gun goes off in Salzburg it’s time to pack the bags and head to Europe, where I’ll have a full month to keep up the physical training and fly as much of the course as possible with Bruce Marks, my air-support guru in the race. I’ve got a quick stop at the Mountain Film Fest in Telluride this weekend with a couple screenings of North of Known, then Monday I’m on a plane. The flying in Europe all spring has been epic which has frankly been tortuous to watch. Sun Valley has been kind to us after a massive winter with a lot of flyable days, but we haven’t had a big day or an easy day yet. Ratty thermals, lots of wind, low base- ie perfect training!
A lot of people have been asking if it feels any different this time around. Am I more or less nervous? Are we doing anything different? Am I more or less confident? The truth is for some questions I don’t have a firm answer. Ben Abruzzo, my trainer and my ground expert during the race kicked my ass again this year. We started October 1st, like we did for the 2015 campaign which gives us just a little over 9 months of physical preparation. I felt so strong and good for the last race that I didn’t see much reason to change anything, but the training this time around has felt easier. Ben insists that it’s because I came into this year in much stronger condition and I’ve been through it once, so of course it feels easier. When I look at the workouts in 2015 (we track every workout in Google Docs and I track all heart rate data and metrics with my trusty Garmin Fenix 5S) and compare them to this year, the load certainly seems no less, and when it comes to training Ben is simply a wizard, so in Ben I trust. No doubt it’s all pretty ridiculous and man am I fired up to go hard!
A year ago we met with Dr. Willey (https://www.getwell3.com/), a hormone and sports-nutrition expert to find out if we could decrease the swelling that takes place during the race from the constant trauma through nutrition instead of pain relievers, as well as pick up speed on the ground (and hopefully fix my feet as they looked like someone had beaten on them with a hammer in the last race). The doctor ran a huge swath of labs on both Ben and I and as a result my diet and supplements have changed radically this time around. Without going into all the details, the short of is that I’ve never felt better. The basic concept is to make me more fat adaptive through a diet rich in fat and protein. Carbs still have their place, but by utilizing organ meats and other meat protein, not skimping on good fat (avocados, grass-fed butter, nuts, etc.) and limiting the sugar gels and replacing them with products like Vespa Energy, Crik Protein Powder, Skratch labs electrolytes and hydration elixirs, and collagen (gelatin) for the joints we’ve radically reduced gut GI during really hard sessions when the heart is maxed out and I recover WAY faster.
By also utilizing regular heat (sauna) and cold therapy (ice showers and ice baths- if you want to learn more of the crazy benefits of heat therapy listen to this Tim Ferriss podcast with Rhonda Patrick) at my awesome gym (Zenergy Health Club and Spa) and all the mobility tricks found in Kelly Starrett’s “Supple Leopard” after every workout (which I also do every night of the race before bed) I wake up ready to roll. The final big change we’ve made this year was to radically improve my sleep hygiene. 13 years of living on a sail boat made me a light sleeper at best, but with the help of Ian Dunican and Nik Hawks who have taught me all kinds of tricks about sleeping well (no screens at night, meditation, banking sleep, etc.), and a whole host of things like Rishi Turmeric tea, Superfoods and mushrooms from Four Sigmatic, Onnit’s Total Primate Care supplements, and things like fish oil, magnesium and turmeric supplements have me at peace at night like I haven’t felt in decades. When you train for something like the X-Alps it’s all about recovery and sleep is the key.
Winning the race of course goes to the best pilot. He who clicks off the most kilometers in the air and makes the least number of mistakes goes home with the trophy, so why all the emphasis on physical training, nutrition and sleep? Fans of the race probably already know the answer. A lot of the athletes who go out strong for the first few days crumple. Their bodies break or their brain breaks or usually both. That’s why the X-Alps is so uniquely difficult. The physical requirements even on years where the flying weather is good is bordering preposterous- most athletes will climb the height of Everest (30,000 feet) four or more times in ten days. Now add in the stress of flying in dicey conditions, very little rest, no time to recover, and the million decisions that are required both by the athlete and their support teams (who often get even less sleep than the athletes do) and you start to see why you’ve got to play the long game. In the last race I went from 4th at the end of the 1st day all the way back to 21st at the end of day 6. But I felt strong right to the end and more importantly we were having a blast and that combination started paying dividends going into day 8 when I flew a much more direct line than the rest of the field on a tough day and moved all the way back up to 7th position.
A couple weeks ago I started laying everything out that needs to go to Europe with me. Can you believe that during the race I’ll have about 24 pounds of gear on my back, but I’m bringing nearly 200 pounds of gear to Europe!
Here’s an abbreviated list:
- Niviuk Klimber + backup + spare lineset
- Sup’Air Strike harness and helmet
- Assortment of light-weight trail running Patagonia Clothing, warm stuff and rain gear
- Black diamond carbon trekking poles + back up set + spare tips
- Repair kit and first aid
- Boxes and boxes of Gu Energy waffles and Gels, Vespa Energy supplements, BOXES of Patagonia Provisions Salmon and breakfast cereals and protein bars
- Skratch Labs electrolytes and Hydration powders, Magnesium, fish oil, Onnit Primate Care vitamin packs, Halo Neuroscience headphones (used before every training session to kick start my motor cortex), and a lot of other supplements
- Spare reserve
- Ojas sun screens and Flexpower Pain Relief cream (like Arnica gel but BETTER!)
- Flying instruments: Garmin InReach, XCTracer Vario, Bluetooth headset, Iphone with FlySkyHy app, external battery
- 8 pairs of shoes
- Various gloves
- Climbing Harness and Via Ferrata kit
- Drybags to load sand into for sandbag training
- Blister and foot care kits
- Camelback, more clothing, more spares, more stuff!
In the old days of the X-Alps athletes would carry stoves and camping gear and it was an adventure across the Alps. No longer. These days the fastest teams are as modern and prepared and as well trained as a winning team on the Tour de France. 32 athletes and their teams set out July 2nd and in all likelihood a small handful or less will make it to Monaco. Injuries, eliminations, and exhaustion will take their toll. The tiny little things add up and make a difference but in the end there’s a reason the X-Alps is the greatest game on Earth. There’s nothing else in the world like it and I’m honored and chomping at the bit to have another opportunity to play. Let’s do this!